Kiggins Theatre

FilmWatch Weekly: Werner Herzog, POW Film Fest, socialism, and French romance

A feast of films by the legendary director of "indelibly weird classics" leads a week that also includes a 14th annual women's film festival

Werner Herzog and friend during the filming of “Fitzcarraldo.”

What is there to say about Werner Herzog that hasn’t already been said? After all, it’s not every German arthouse auteur who becomes practically a household name, a mystical paragon of cinematic purity, and a patron saint of bemused nihilism, while also popping up in the Star Wars universe and voicing three different characters (one of them himself) on The Simpsons.

A fresh opportunity to ponder how this enfant terrible of the 1970s morphed into the inspiration for a hilarious Twitter parody account arises this week as the Hollywood Theatre screens its September series Descent into Madness: The Films of Werner Herzog. A half-dozen of Herzog’s iconic early works will be featured, along with the equally iconic documentary Burden of Dreams, which chronicles the quixotic making of perhaps the most insane of them.

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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘CODA,’ ‘Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power,’ and ‘Cryptozoo’

CODA: "From the get-go, the portrayal of this family feels as authentic as any glimpse into deaf culture I’ve seen on screen"

Emilia Jones in “CODA” (Apple TV+)

It’s fair to say that CODA is a revelation. Coming from an unheralded director making her second feature, and with barely a recognizable face in its cast, this Sundance Award-winning drama tells a universal coming-of-age story while providing genuine emotional insight to a very specific scenario.

The title is an acronym for Child Of Deaf Adults, which is what teenaged Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is. Her parents, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin) operate a struggling fishing boat, with help from Ruby’s older, also deaf, brother Leo (Daniel Durant). From the get-go, the portrayal of this family feels as authentic as any glimpse into deaf culture I’ve seen on screen (although last year’s Sound of Metal is no slouch). For instance, if you pay close attention you can pick up some hilariously vulgar ASL slang when the siblings taunt each other.

Ruby operates in two worlds, gutting fish and serving as her family’s go-between when they need to interact with the hearing community while also attending high school, where she decides on a whim to go out for choir. (She sings out loud while working on the boat, with the abandon of someone who knows there’s no audience to hear her.) The ebullient, almost cartoonish instructor (Eugenio Derbez) draws her out of her shell and recognizes her vocal talent.

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FilmWatch Weekly: Teenage auteur, Cruella De Vil, Tiny Tim, more!

Suzanne Lindon's "Spring Blossom" is a surprise in many ways; Disney's "Cruella" rings in the summer season

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter who made a particular film. Of course, a perfect world would be one in which the voices of women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color hadn’t been systematically marginalized or silenced. Institutional sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia are arguably even greater barriers in an art form that relies so much on capital investment and access to technology. In our imperfect world, it’s incumbent on a critic to spotlight the emergence of individuals who have managed to succeed despite these societal hurdles.

Arnaud Valois and Suzanne Lindon in Spring Blossom

And yet, not knowing who made a thing can yield its own pleasures. Take Spring Blossom, the delicate, barely-feature-length French drama that’s streaming via the Kiggins Theatre. It tells, in broad strokes, a familiar tale, and one that carries plenty of risks if not told well: a teenaged girl who doesn’t fit in with her peers develops a crush on an older man, leading to an inevitably fraught relationship between the two.

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Stage moms storm the gates

ArtsWatch Weekly: Storm Large and 3 Leg Torso make a movie, Chamber Music NW goes live, the Joy of words, news & views

SUNDAY IS MOTHER’S DAY, AND IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS someone in the Pacific Northwest would be producing a streaming version of the great show-biz musical Gypsy, which features that most outrageous stage mom of all time, Mama Rose. So far as we can tell, that isn’t happening – but it’s worth noting that this not-quite-docudrama has Northwest roots. Rose’s daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, the celebrated ecdysiast on whose memoir the musical is based, was born in Seattle. Her sister, Baby June – the actress June Havoc – was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Storm Large is Mom, carpooling the boys in the movie “M Is for Mischief,” a musical comedy with 3 Leg Torso.

Ah, but who could be a more Mama Rose-size figure for Mother’s Day than Storm Large, the Portland rocker, musical memoirist, and stage and concert star whose triumphs range from Cabaret to Pink Martini tours to singing Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins at Carnegie Hall to writing and starring in her own musical play, Crazy Enough? And what better sidekicks than the brilliantly eclectic Portland band 3 Leg Torso? Large stars as Mother Torso, an overworked mom of four boys, in the new film M Is for Mischief, which is produced by 3 Leg Torso and Lakewood Center for the Arts (where it was filmed), and co-stars those wry and effervescent boys in the band. It premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday: Ticket details here, and a short film trailer here. In what sounds a bit like a Mom’s Day twist on the movie 9 to 5, Ms. Torso, it seems, has raised good boys: “The brothers secretly use their special musical powers to prank her wretched boss, who learns the hard way that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Torso.”

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Streamers: PIFF lineup, “What Happened Was,” and more

A sneak peek at this year's Portland International Film Fest, plus the "Citizen Kane" of awkward first-date movies

44th Portland International Film Festival

When the emergent pandemic forced last year’s Portland International Film Festival, like the rest of the country, to abruptly shut down, the idea that this year’s festival would also be impacted by the coronavirus was so absurd that it hardly bore contemplation. And yet, here we are, contemplating a mostly virtual, socially distanced event, some details of which were recently announced by the Portland Art Museum and the Northwest Film Center.

A scene from Alicia Rose and Alicia Jo Rabins’ “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff”

The interruption of last year’s PIFF must have been especially frustrating for Amy Dotson, the Film Center’s Director, who was overseeing her first PIFF after taking over for longtime director Bill Foster. Dotson had overhauled the event in many ways, instituting the Cinema Unbound Awards and attempting to both expand the festival’s reach to incorporate nontraditional sorts of cinematic experiences, and to increase its regional focus by absorbing the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. An opportunity to assess how those changes work in the context of a real-live, in-person film festival will have to wait another year, but this year’s PIFF will still offer almost 80 films (including 45 features) over a ten-day period, March 5th to 14th, as well as the second annual Cinema Unbound Awards, the recipients of which will be announced next week.

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